This piece was authored by Austin Henshaw.
Yesterday, on Tuesday February 7th, the Senate voted to censure Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) for her rhetoric against Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Trump’s nominee for Attorney General. Her language was considered to be in violation of the Standing Rules of the Senate, specifically Senate civility rules that members not malign one another. While the Senate was certainly in it’s rights to do so, this will very likely backfire for the GOP.
On the Senate floor Warren read a letter from Martin Luther King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, with allegations against Jeff Sessions, accusing him of using the law to prevent African American from registering to vote. Warren’s reading of “Mr. Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens in the district he now seeks to serve as a federal judge” was cited by Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to justify her censure.
The application of this rule has not been applied equally in the Senate’s history, with one prominent example occurring in the past week. Senator David Perdue (R-GA) recently maligned Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) for his tears during a press conference regarding Trump’s Executive Order on travel bans, asserting “minority leader’s tear-jerking performance over the past weekend belongs at the Screen Actors Guild awards, not in a serious discussion of what it takes to keep America safe.” No action was taken by the Senate. Similar statements where Senators from across the spectrum could reasonably be considered to be maligning each other have taken place in the past with no such action.
In a result that shouldn’t be surprising, silencing Warren elevated her message, with #LetLizSpeak and “Silencing Elizabeth Warren” becoming nationally trending topics on Twitter, and her censure becoming front page news across the country. After the violent UC-Berkeley protests of this past week, the sales of Milo’s book Dangerous increased by 12,740% overnight. All those across the political spectrum should learn that silencing the speech of opponents does not work.
Republicans often face accusations of being part of a “War on Women”, and CNN was able to take advantage of this, tweeting out “For Elizabeth Warren’s supporters, the vote leading to #LetLizSpeak was a textbook case of males silencing a woman.” While it is oftentimes impossible to anticipate how your opponents or the media will respond to your actions, it is confusing the Senate GOP took this action knowing the very real possibility this would add fuel to that fire.